A New Hope

Luke Skywalker: The Loss of Innocence

Frantic to return to his homestead to warn his family about an impending Imperial raid, Luke arrives too late. Slowing down in his landspeeder, the young man leaps out and calls to his uncle Owen and aunt Beru as black smoke billows from his burning home. Scanning the destruction, Luke locks eyes on the smoldering carcasses of his guardians. Not only was he too late, but the extermination was absolute. Luke may have expected, as he sped closer to home and could see the smoke on the distant horizon, that he would find the limp bodies of Owen and Beru. But he surely did not expect such an abhorrent scene – the grotesque, distorted skeletons of his loving uncle and aunt. One cannot help but wonder -and certainly the thought must go through Luke’s mind – if his uncle and aunt suffered in their final moments of life, tortured by the pain of being burned alive.

Grotesque
The grotesque corpses of Owen and Beru.

Photo Credit – Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope

This short but disturbing moment in A New Hope is one that never fails to move and pain me. Admittedly, the event is a narrative necessity, albeit a disturbing one, a way of jettisoning Luke from the confines of his childhood connections into a larger world. Seeking adventure and desiring to leave home, even petitioning his defiant Uncle at dinner the night before to allow him to leave, Luke’s adolescent dreams can not be fulfilled. There is no longer any resistance standing in his way and he can join Obi-Wan Kenobi on his valiant quest to defeat the Empire.

And yet, as the scene concludes with Luke standing there in the quiet desolation of his childhood as the smoke billows and the carcasses continue to smolder, I have always wondered: what did Luke do next?

Skywalker Alone
What did Luke do after this moment?

Photo Credit – Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope

This is not a question that demands a definitive answer. In fact, I would be furious if the Lucasfilm Story Group was to provide an “official” or “canonical” account regarding Luke’s actions (or his thoughts/feelings) when the scene concludes. On one level, this is because this scene in A New Hope, which we can link with Luke’s sad return to Obi-Wan and his admission that he can now join the Jedi Master’s journey, work with seamless fluidity even though they are separated. We do not need to be told what Luke did in the interval because the narrative intention in A New Hope is to move Luke from one stage of life to the next. The innocence of his childhood is literally destroyed and he will now venture forth into the responsibilities of adulthood.

On another level, any “official” explanation would usurp the imaginative faculties of fans, taking away the opportunity for one to insert their own thoughts and feelings into the heart-wrenching moments before, during, and after Luke arrives. Not knowing what Luke does, or the emotional turmoil he experiences, is in many respects what makes the death of Owen and Beru so powerful. Without explanation, other than the pained look on young Skywalker’s face as he views the carnage of his familiar surroundings, we are left to fill in the gaps, all of which enables our own, individualized connections with Luke, and the film, to flourish.

And so, the question – what did Luke do next? – percolates in my mind precisely because my imaginative faculties, aided by the emotion which the scene evokes inside of me, consistently arrives at a number of possible explanations. Just as I can believe Luke simply turned around, walked back to his speeder and left his home, I can just as easily imagine that Luke feel to the ground and broke down in tears. Or maybe Luke dropped to his knees and screamed, bellowing out the agony and guilt of not being there to protect his loving family.

Perhaps Luke sprung into stoic action, choosing to carefully bury the bodies as he internally contemplated the loss of his innocent and simple life. Digging graves next to those of his great uncle Cliegg and great aunt Shmi, Luke placed the wrapped bodies of uncle Owen and aunt Beru in graves he methodically dug. The burial complete, Luke returned to his land speeder and drove off into the Tatooine desert, taking nothing but the memories of his family, his home, and his youth with him.

Favorite Star Wars Music (by Film)

A long time ago…in 2017…I wrote a piece detailing why “The Imperial March” is my absolute favorite musical score in the Star Wars franchise. This admission came as little surprise to many of my trove of followers/readers as I have often professed my cultish admiration for The Empire Strikes Back (ESB) on this site. It stood to reason that The Imperial March would top my list considering the fact that the iconic anthem for the Galactic Empire/Darth Vader was first introduced in Episode V. Plus, given my “Casterfoian” obsession with the Empire, it stood to reason that I would likewise adopt the score as my all-time favorite.

While my unadulterated affection for all things ESB stands firm, and “The Imperial March” continues to receive constant replays on my Spotify account, there are never-the-less many other pieces of Star Wars music that have been elevated to the top of my musical mind. Hardly a shock – I am positive you can say the same if you happen to be a Star Wars fan – I wanted to take the opportunity to share a musical composition from each Star Wars film that I hold near and dear to my heart. For the sake of brevity, I have only chosen one from each film and decided to forgo long-winded explanations detailing why I love each piece, in large part because music is so damn personal it would take some of the fun out of it. Still, I may do a post for each at some point if the Force moves me to do so. We shall see.

Enjoy and be sure to comment with your own “faves” list!


A New Hope  “Tales of a Jedi Knight/Learn About the Force”


The Empire Strikes Back – “Yoda’s Theme”

While my heart will always be dedicated to “The Imperial March,” I decided to share another score from ESB in this particular list to mix things up a bit.


Return of the Jedi – “Leia’s New/Light of the Force”


The Phantom Menace – “The Droid Invasion and the Appearance of Darth Maul”

**Surprise! You were expecting “Duel of the Fates” weren’t you? Here is the deal: I love “Duel of the Fates” with a crazy passion but I likewise love “The Droid Invasion and the Appearance of Darth Maul.” I had to pick one and so I went with my gut. Besides, just listen to how the piece shifts when Maul is introduced! Holy frick that is haunting!!!!


Attack of the Clones – “Across the Stars”


Revenge of the Sith – “The Birth of the Twins and Padmé’s Destiny”


The Clone Wars – “Battle of Christophsis”


The Force Awakens “The Jedi Steps”

**I don’t care much for sentimentality but I readily admit that this piece gives me the feels. Like “Tales of a Jedi Knight/Learn About the Force”, “The Jedi Steps” packs an emotional punch by forcing me to imagine the Jedi Order, now a dying remnant, who once served and protected the galaxy far, far away. Between hearing this piece, and watching Rey literally walk the steps of the ancient Jedi, I was brought to tears in my first viewing of The Force Awakens.**


Rogue One“Your Father Would Be Proud”


The Last Jedi – “The Spark”


Solo: A Star Wars Story – “Savareen Stand-Off”

*Leave a comment with your thoughts about my list or share your own favorites!!!*

Haikuesday: Jyn Erso

Rogue One: The Movie
Rogue One: The Rebel Call Sign
Rogue One: Jyn Erso


First year of Clone Wars.
Separatist world of Vallt.
Jyn Erso is born.


Mission on Alpinn.
Jyn travels with her mother.
Has and Nari, too.


Hiding on Lah’mu,
eight-year old Jyn Erso with
her loving parents.


“Koodie” the Tooka.
“Stormie,” “Wuzzwork,” and “Tinta.”
Some of young Jyn’s toys.

Star Wars Trivia:
Tookas are a subspecies
of the Loth-cat. Neat!

Stormie – stormtrooper.
Wuzzwork – looks like a Wookiee.
Tinta – a Tauntaun.


To Jyn: “Trust the Force.”
To Jyn: “I love you Stardust.”
Lyra and Galen.


Lyra’s sacrifice.
Jyn watches her mother die.
She runs and she hides.


A lonely bunker.
Jyn waits for a friendly face.
Reb: Saw Gerrara.


Age: eight to sixteen.
In the care of Gerrara.
Partisan Rebel.


Scene: planet Garel.
“Pick on someone your own size,”
Jyn tells some troopers.

A Heart of Kyber.
Erso rescues a Loth-cat
for a little girl.

Sabine runs into
an accidental ally.
Yup, it’s Jyn Erso!!!

I wonder why Jyn
was just hanging around on
the planet Garel.


Water drips. drips. drips.
Imperial prison cell.
A Rebel Rises.


Droid: K-2SO
A painful introduction.
“Congratulations.”


Liana Hallik?
Nope, that isn’t her real name!
She is Jyn Erso!!!


“The luxury of
political opinions,”
Jyn has never had.


Mission to Jedha.
Cassian, Jyn, and K-2.
An occupied world.


Standing in a crowd.
Chirrut Îmwe can see Jyn
even though he’s blind.


Pendra Siliu.
Crying, caught in a battle.
Rescued by Erso.


Kicking trooper ass,
Jyn turns, shoots a KX droid…
…it’s not K-2. Phew!!!


Saw’s paranoia.
Convinced of Jyn’s betrayal.
Momentarily.


Eadu Extraction.
Jyn and Galen reunite
as tragedy strikes.


Pleading for action:
“Rebellions are built on hope.”
Turned down by Rebels.


Rallying the troops.
Jyn leads a mission to steal
dreaded Death Star plans.


Scarif bound shuttle.
Jyn grasps her Kyber crystal.
The Will of the Force.


Citadel Tower.
With Cassian and K-2,
Jyn nears infamy.


How do they get in?
Clever disguises of course!
Jyn the Technician.


Hyperspace Tracking.
Navigational Systems.
Stardust, that’s the one.

Stardust discovers
that Project Stardust will turn
Death Star to star dust.


Warrior Daughter.
Jyn, standing before Krennic,
declares who she is.


Mission Accomplished.
Plans transmitted to the fleet.
A Heart of Kyber.


Scene: on Scarif beach.
Your father would be proud, Jyn.”
Two friends embrace death.


From a hidden base,
Rebels led by Jyn Erso
kicked ass and stole plans.

Star Wars: A New Hope
“Rebellions are built on hope.”
Jyn embodies hope.


Haikuesday is a monthly series on The Imperial Talker, a new post with poetic creations coming on the first Tuesday of each month. The haiku topic is chosen by voters on Twitter so be sure to follow @ImperialTalker so you can participate in the voting. Now, check out these past Haikuesday posts:

Droids (February 2017)

Ahsoka Tano (March 2017)

Darth Vader (April 2017)

The Battle of Scarif (May 2017)

The Truce at Bakura (June 2017)

Queen Amidala (July 2017)

Ryloth (August 2017)

Cloud City (September 2017)

General Grievous (October 2017)

Millennium Falcon (November 2017)

Poe Dameron (December 2017)

The Battle of Umbara (January 2018)

Hondo Ohnaka (February 2018)

Haikuesday: Millennium Falcon

These haiku are based
on “Millennium Falcon”
by James Luceno

Haiku Addendum:
obviously I’m kidding
so let’s begin here…


The “Falcon” is the
single most important ship
in all of Star Wars.

If you don’t agree,
well, that is perfectly fine.
Except, you are wrong.


Make: Corellian
YT-1300f
And sort of trashy.


Cockpit on the right…
…so how the hell does Solo
see ships to his left?

Haiku Addendum:
the cockpit placement seems like
a big design flaw.


A really fast ship:
it makes point five past light speed…
…whatever that means.


Easter Egg Alert!?!?!
Y’all see the “Falcon” over
Jedha in Rogue One!?!?!?!


“What a piece of junk.”
Luke insults Solo’s baby.
Han just doesn’t care.


A really fast ship:
It made the Kessel Run in
less than twelve parsecs.

Point of inquiry:
wasn’t it fourteen parsecs?
Someone go ask Rey.


Han’s best maneuver:
list lazily to the left.
Family Guy joke.


“You came in that thing,”
the Princess asks the Captain.
“Braver than I thought.”


Dorsal and Ventral.
Quad laser cannons blast TIEs.
Luke gets one; Han too.


Last ship to arrive
at the Battle of Yavin.
A Death Star Destroyed.


Inside Echo Base
Chewie and Han make repairs…
…a lot of repairs.


Tool: hydrospanner
Use: fixing broken “Falcons”
A space screw driver.


On the Avenger,
the “Falcon” hides in plain sight,
which is sort of odd.

Point of Inquiry:
how come no TIE pilots saw
the “Falcon” parked there?


On Cloud City we
learn that Calrissian used
to own the “Falcon.”


We never see Han
piloting his prized “Falcon”
in Episode VI.


A really fast ship:
Solo offers his baby
to Calrissian.


“She won’t get a scratch.”
“I got your word…not a scratch.”
She, ah, gets a scratch…


First ship to arrive
at the Battle of Endor.
A Death Star Destroyed.


Leading Endor charge.
The Millennium Falcon
blasts TIEs left and right.


The Endor gunners –
Two Rebels: Cracken and Blount
They deserve praise, too.


Lando and Nien Nunb
pilot the “Falcon” into
the Second Death Star.


Sub-light: Girodyne
Hyperdrive: An Isu-Sim
Power Core: Quadex


“The garbage will do,”
Rey says to Finn as they flee
First Order Fighters.


Stolen by Ducain,
then the Irving Boys, then Plutt,
then by Rey, then Han.


Stress on hyperdrive.
Ignition line compression.
Some moof-milker’s fault.


Now that Han is dead,
who technically owns his ship?
Leia? Chewie? Rey?

Haiku Addendum:
did Solo have a space will?
Maybe Ben gets it…


Haikuesday is a monthly series on The Imperial Talker, a new post with poetic creations coming on the first Tuesday of each month. The haiku topic is chosen by voters on Twitter so be sure to follow @ImperialTalker so you can participate in the voting. Now, check out these past Haikuesday posts:

Droids (February 2017)

Ahsoka Tano (March 2017)

Darth Vader (April 2017)

The Battle of Scarif (May 2017)

The Truce at Bakura (June 2017)

Queen Amidala (July 2017)

Ryloth (August 2017)

Cloud City (September 2017)

General Grievous (October 2017)

Poe Dameron (December 2017)

The Imperial March

When the new Star Wars ComLINKS topic for October 2017 – Favorite Musical Score –  was announced over at Anakin and His Angel I knew I had to jump in and participate. For a while now, I have been thinking about writing a bit more about the music that accompanies Star Wars, the iconic compositions of John Williams that give the original trilogy gravitas and have also influenced other Star Wars composers. It is safe to say – and really a no-brainer – that without the music of Williams, Star Wars would be much different. But I will leave a larger conversation of the music of Star Wars to another person, or at least save it for another occasion. For now, with the ComLINKS topic in mind, I am excited to share my thoughts/feelings on Favorite Musical Score in Star Wars. And, of course, it’s “The Imperial March (Darth Vader’s Theme).”

The word “theme” is appropriate here because, let’s face it, I consistently return to The Empire Strikes Back to discuss my favorite aspects of Star Wars. It should really come as no surprise, then, that my favorite score would also come from my favorite Star Wars film. Naturally I love Star Wars across the board, but my deep affection for The Empire Strikes Back – embedded within me as a child – is the true grounding of my Star Wars adoration. That being the case, the issue at hand is not that my favorite musical score comes from The Empire Strikes Back, but rather, why is this particular score from the film’s soundtrack my favorite and not another?

To be entirely blunt, “The Imperial March (Darth Vader’s Theme)” is my favorite score because it is established as the de facto anthem of the Galactic Empire. As a child, I was fascinated by the Empire, having a “Casterfoian” (google “Casterfo”) interest in the baddies of the Star Wars universe. While I knew the Empire was evil, and I celebrated the destruction of the Death Star in A New Hope with the Rebels, The Empire Strikes Back introduced me to a different way of viewing/experiencing the Empire. No longer were they simply the bad guys with a massive moon-sized space station but, instead, they were the bad guys who had Probe Droids, Super Star Destroyers, Imperial Walkers, Snowtroopers, TIE Bombers, and more. Even though they took a big hit in A New Hope, these baddies were anything but knocked out, and still had the means to level a crushing blow to the Rebel Alliance on the planet Hoth. And, to top it off, the Empire now had distinct piece of music – doubling as the theme for the villainous Darth Vader – to capture their harsh, galactic reach.

To this day, the raw power of “The Imperial March” continues to captivate and hold me not only because it originates in The Empire Strikes Back, but because I have come to appreciate it on a deeper level. As a child, I was unaware that the piece was influenced by Chopin’s “Funeral March” and Gustav Holst’s “Mars, the Bringer of War.” And yet, today, I am equally captivated by these pieces, all thanks to my childhood enjoyment of the Empire/Vader’s powerful anthem. Plus, this is also the case with a number of others scores from Star Wars, my enjoyment of these leading me to a more profound appreciation of other classical pieces.

At the same time, while “The Imperial March” is laced with childhood meaning and has led me to its musical influences, it also continues to be a piece that, quite frankly, captures me and takes hold each time I hear it. The repetition of the strings in the opening riff, crisp and dark (thanks to it being in a minor key), captures my attention until the brass presents the iconic melody in the fifth bar, gripping me with its clear-cut strength and power. Having washed over me like a wave in a storm, there is no escape. The moment I hear the opening to “The Imperial March,” and the iconic brass melody which serves as a leitmotif for Empire and Vader has begun, I must continue to listen. It would be wrong to turn around, to stop the March from moving forward. And so, no matter the situation, I will always let “The Imperial March” continue…

…which is, in a very real sense, the point of the piece. “The Imperial March” is aptly named because it perfectly encompasses the forward progress of the Galactic Empire, a progression which is difficult to stop. The Empire, wounded as it was at Yavin IV, continues its march of terror, death, and destruction. And, of course, Darth Vader spearheads the Imperial march across the galaxy, hunting down those who wish to stop the Empire. But it cannot be stopped, it will not be stopped, and it is futile to even try.


This post is part of the Star Wars ComLINKS series. Check out more Star Wars ComLINKS over at Anakin and His Angelswcomlinksbanner1

Son of Solo

The line, coming in a dramatic moment in The Forces Awakens, is powerful in its brevity and delivery. Han Solo, helping to plant charges which he hopes will give the Resistance an advantage in destroying Starkiller Base, sees the film’s villain Kylo Ren standing alone on a bridge, a bridge which spans a seemingly bottomless chasm. At this point in the film we know that Kylo Ren and Han Solo are related, that Solo is Ren’s father. However, it is not until Solo advances towards the dark-shrouded man that we  suddenly and unexpectedly learn Kylo Ren’s given name. “Ben!!!!”, Solo shouts to get the villains attention, doing so and beginning a conversation which, we also know, ends just as suddenly and unexpectedly when Solo is killed by his tormented offspring.

There are any number of ways one could approach/discuss the events which unfold in this dramatic scene in The Force Awakens. And, I am sure I could provide some well-developed and, I’d like to believe, insightful thoughts on it. But my intentions in this brief conversation far less overarching, and I am much more interested in providing, for now, a small morsel of consideration regarding the moment Han Solo shouts the name Ben.

To begin, when I heard Solo pronounce Kylo Ren’s true name, I was, undoubtedly like many others, struck by the fact that Ben is also the pseudonym used by Obi-Wan Kenobi whilst he lived on Tatooine (Ben Kenobi). Assuredly, this is an indication that Han Solo and Leia Organa named their only child after the famed Jedi Master, perhaps as a way to honor the man who, from a certain point of view, brought the lovers together. Plus, if we backup and consider the countless ways The Force Awakens borrows from/echoes A New Hope, it seems appropriate that the film includes a character named Ben. And yet, that Kylo Ren’s real name is Ben has another equally important and symbolic meaning, one that resonates as loudly as Solo’s voice when the name leaves his mouth.

A Hebrew name originating in the Jewish Tanakh, Benjamin (the anglicized form of Binyamin) is often translated in two distinct ways: “Son of the south” or “Son of the right hand.” Thus, taken alone as a masculine noun, “Ben” quite literally means “Son” and/or “Son of” (Yeshua ben Eleazar ben Sira = Joshua [Jesus] son of Eleazar son of Sira). Ben is used in both given names and surnames of Hebraic origin, although philologists who study Hebrew will be quick to point out that “Ben” is used in a number of other ways as well.

While I would enjoy delving deeper into the nuanced meanings and usage of “Ben” and “Benjamin” in Biblical texts, my reason for noting its usage as a masculine Hebrew noun should be fairly obvious. On the one hand, Han Solo is not just yelling the name “Ben!!!” to get Kylo Ren’s attention, but he is also, quite literally, yelling “Son!!!” On the other hand, we can translate the name Ben Solo as the “Son of Solo.”

I cannot say with any authority that the writer(s)/director of The Force Awakens, when  choosing the given name for Kylo Ren, were aware that the name Ben could be translated as “Son” or “Son of.” While it is likely that the name was chosen to create superficial connection with Ben Kenobi, I am never-the-less left wondering whether Ben was also chosen because of it’s original Hebrew meaning. Still, intentional or not, the meaning in the name Ben is present, rippling outwards as it leaves Han Solo’s lips. With these complimentary meanings in mind – “Ben” = “Son” and “Ben Solo” = “Son of Solo” – the potential for new insights about The Force Awakens may emerge. And if they do, I hope you will share some of those insights with me.

Faith in Something Greater

Speeding down the Death Star trench in his X-Wing Starfighter, pursued by the villain Darth Vader, Luke Skywalker does something unexpected: he turns off his Starfighter’s targeting computer. Rebel leaders question Luke’s decision, asking him if something is wrong, but the young man responds simply and directly. “I’m alright,” he states, no further information provided. Nor could he provide explanation if he wanted, as time is of the essence and the reasoning for his decision, quite frankly, defies reason.

Only moments before turning off the computer, the tension in A New Hope’s climactic battle was amplified by conditions outside of Luke’s control. Leading his compatriots – Wedge Antilles and Biggs Darklighter – “full throttle” into the Death Star trench, the farm boy-turned-Rebel pilot soon finds himself alone. Taking a critical hit to his fighter, Antilles is ordered by Luke to pull out of the trench while Darklighter, a childhood friend whom Luke only just reconnected with, is killed. Already filled with anxiety that the audience and Rebel leaders alike could hear in his voice, Skywalker is now faced with the responsibility of destroying the planet killing Death Star entirely by himself.

Anticipation continuing to mount, the distance to his target seeming to close at an incredibly slow pace, Luke suddenly hears the voice of his recently deceased mentor Obi-Wan (Ben) Kenobi. Speaking from “the beyond,” the old Jedi Master tells the young pilot to “Use the Force.” Confused, Skywalker continues to look through his targeting computer apparatus only to be implored by Kenobi to “let go” and to “trust me.” Finally understanding, he switches off his computer.

TargetingComputer
Luke Skywalker looks through his targeting computer.
Photo Credit – Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope

That Luke responds to Kenobi by turning off the computer is unexpected because one would anticipate that defeating the technological monstrosity that is the Death Star should require some form of technological assistance. After all, in order for the Rebel pilots to destroy the Empire’s “ultimate power in the universe” they must travel down a trench and fire their proton torpedoes with precision into an exhaust port that is only two meters wide. In turn, as the climactic battle unfolds, the audience is periodically allowed to witness the targeting system on the Death Star AND the targeting systems on the Rebel fighters, a cinematic maneuver which works to heighten tension. The entire battle is, in a very real sense, a race against time to see which side can be the first to use their technology to target and destroy their enemy, something we are constantly reminded of through A New Hope’s final act.

On this point, it’s worth remembering that Red Leader, commander of the Alliance X-Wing force, and presumably the best X-Wing pilot in the battle, does fire a torpedo shot at the Death Star’s weak spot using his targeting computer. In keeping with the film’s narrative, these torpedoes miss the mark so that Luke could lead his own deadly trench run. And yet, Red Leader’s miss is important for another salient reason: it shows that even relying on available technology does not guarantee success, and if Luke is to be heroic,he will also need to rely on a great deal of luck. Or, something far greater than luck.

Rather than depending upon on his artificially constructed computer to show him the target, or hoping he somehow gets lucky, Luke heeds Kenobi’s words to use the Force, the immanent and mystical energy field that pervades the galaxy. After only a moment of hesitation, Skywalker takes a leap of faith, believing he will succeed by relying on that which, we know, he has only begun to explore. Only days before this moment Skywalker knew absolutely nothing about the Force, nor was he aware of his strong connection to it. Now, at this most critical of moments, when failure is not an option, where the fate of the Rebellion and galaxy rest son his shoulders, the young pilot defies all logic by allowing himself to succumb to the ebb and flow of this mysterious Force. In this unexpected moment, precisely because he gives himself over to something greater than himself – or technology, or reason, or luck – Luke Skywalker takes a giant step forward into a realm of possibility more profound and amazing than he, or even we, could have imagined. And in doing so he becomes the hero he was always destined to be. 

Star Wars: The Visual Encyclopedia (An Imperial Talker Review)

Star Wars: The Visual Encyclopedia, co-authored by Tricia Barr, Adam Bray, and Cole Horton, is at one and the same time intensely fascinating and slightly overwhelming. This latest addition to the catalog of Star Wars reference books contains a veritable mountain of images and information broken into five distinct chapters, each chapter having a handful of subsections. The breadth and depth of Star Wars knowledge in this book will certainly keep the more “die-hard” fan occupied for long periods of time, but might also leave the more casual fan feeling somewhat dizzy by the scope of what Star Wars has to offer. Even as a self-proclaimed die-hard fan, I readily admit that I felt a bit overwhelmed at times by all The Visual Encyclopedia has to offer. Still, this was and is hardly a reason not to explore the book. In fact, I encourage Star Wars fans of all types to do so, patiently and methodically working through the book so as to savor the journey to the summit of the Star Wars mountain.

So what exactly does this particular mountain of Star Wars knowledge contain? In the book’s foreword, Dennis Muren (Senior Creative Director, Industrial Light & Magic) notes that, “In this title you’ll see firsthand the thousands of objects that are inspired by our world, but are uniquely Star Wars.” And right he is, as this reference source presents through countless images and bits of information how the galaxy far, far away is derived from concepts and ideas that we are all familiar with on some level. Identifying specific categories of inquiry, the authors, as I already mentioned, organize the the Encyclopedia into five chapters: Geography, Nature, History, Culture, and Science and Technology. In this way, the book’s organization invites readers to begin in a chapter of their own choosing, beginning an exploration based on one’s personal interests in the real-world or Star Wars universe. Of course, one can also start on page one and simply go from page-to-page, but know that this isn’t required to grasp all the Encyclopedia since it is not set-up in narrative form.

Mustafar
Southern and Northern Mustafarians.
Photo Credit – Star Wars: The Visual Encyclopedia

For me, going through the book page-by-page, skimming through the images and info, gave me my initial bearings before really digging into anything concrete. From there, I worked through the book in non-linear fashion, very slowly jumping to different pages based on momentary interests and personal inquiry. During one reading I found myself enamored by the chapter on Nature, discovering new things about the various creatures and alien-species in Star Wars. I never knew, for example, that two types Mustafarians existed, Southerners being stocky while their Northerner counterparts are tall and thin (see image above). In turn, as I explored the chapter on Culture, I was struck by the vast array of royal outfits that Queen Padmé Amidala of the Naboo wore in The Phantom Menace. Fashion in Star Wars has never been a personal point of interest for me (I don’t do any form of cosplay) but the images of Amidala’s outfits, and the explanation that her “elaborate gowns reflect their [Naboo’s] culture,” left me intrigued and reflecting upon other forms of royal and political attire in Star Wars.

To this point about personal interest, the majority of my time spent in The Visual Encyclopedia thus far has centered on the Science and Technology chapter. Of the five, it is the longest chapter, having the most subsections arranged into categories ranging from binoculars, equipment, and medical technology to blasters, warships, all forms of land vehicles, plus a whole lot more. For the sake of brevity I won’t go into detail about everything I found so fascinating about this chapter, but I will note that I was particularly happy to encounter two specific land vehicles that I have always desired to see more of in Star Wars: the UT-AT “Trident” tank and the AT-OT Walker. While the Encyclopedia only has a picture of these two war machines accompanied by their respective names, it is never-the-less reassuring to know that there are Star Wars writers/authors keeping the lesser known vehicles (among other things) in mind.

The Star Wars universe is exceedingly vast and The Visual Encyclopedia does a nice job of covering a great deal of the expanse, the UT-AT and AT-OT being a clear example of just that. Still, the reference book does have its limitations, hardly a shock since Star Wars is far too great to be encapsulated in only 199 pages. Since the Encyclopedia is rooted primarily to the Star Wars movies and television shows, one will be disappointed if they enter the book hoping to encounter a wealth of information and images from the array of Star Wars novels, comics, and games. Further, the book does contain a handful of notable absences. While he is quoted, and his unique shuttle Delta-class shuttle is depicted, there is no image of Director Orson Krennic, the antagonist in Rogue One. One will find Rogue One protagonist Jyn Erso in the book, but her father Galen Erso, who developed the Death Star’s planet-killing weapon, and her mother Lyra are no where to be found. And speaking of parents, perhaps the most disappointing absence is that Anakin’s mother, Shmi Skywalker, does not receive an image in the Encyclopedia, just another reminder that she continues to be an unfortunate afterthought in the Star Wars canon.

Limitations and curious absences aside, Star Wars: The Visual Encyclopedia is never-the-less an enjoyable reference book that will leave an interested Star Wars fan occupied for quite a while. Try to take in all it offers in a single sitting and one very well might abandon the effort with feelings of being overwhelmed. But fortified with the patience of a Jedi Master and an eager willingness to savor the journey, and one will surely end up expanding their personal knowledge and understanding of the Star Wars universe.


Thanks to DK Publishing for providing me with an advanced copy of Star Wars: The Visual Encyclopedia

Ahsoka Tano, Child Soldier

“I’m the new Padawan learner. I’m Ahsoka Tano.”

While I absolutely love Ahsoka Tano and find her an enthralling Star Wars character, I am also torn by the reality that Tano, a child, was a combatant in the Clone Wars. Story-wise this was purposeful, as a juvenile protagonist – a “youngling” as Obi-Wan Kenobi calls her – was needed to draw younger viewers to The Clone Wars film and television series of the same name, giving kids a character that they could easily identify with. Narrative necessity aside, no one can deny that when she arrives on the planet Christophsis in the movie, Ahsoka Tano not only takes her first steps towards becoming a Jedi Knight but also becomes a child soldier.

Admittedly, when I first watched The Clone Wars movie and series I was never bothered by this reality. In all honesty, it never even crossed my mind until recently. So deeply enchanted by the new Star Wars stories being told, so excited to experience the Clone Wars which Obi-Wan first spoke of in A New Hope, it never dawned on me that Ahsoka Tano’s participation in the war was/is egregious. That Jedi Master Yoda would see fit to use the youngling as a courier, carrying an urgent message into the heart of a major battle is alarming, especially considering she is sent without any body armor. That he and the Jedi Order would allow Ahsoka and other Jedi children to be warriors in the conflict is appalling.

Then again, while alarming and appalling, it is not entirely surprising. The Jedi Order – Master Yoda included – was quick to take command of the clone army in Attack of the Clones, an army of genetically bred soldiers who were also, technically speaking, just children. That the ancient Order, committed to using the mystical Force for “knowledge and defense, never for attack” would move so swiftly to militarize is disconcerting, proof that the Jedi were not only imperfect but also flirted with the Dark Side. Sending children into battle, younglings such as Ahsoka Tano and Caleb Dume (himself younger than even Tano) is but another reminder that the Jedi Order in the late days of the Old Republic acted, at times, in morally and ethically repugnant ways.


I am interested to hear what you have to say about Ahsoka Tano as a child soldier, but I would also encourage you to check out the sites below to read more about the plight of child soldiers around the world. 

Child Soldiers International

Human Rights Watch

Amnest International

Children and Armed Conflict
(Be sure to watch the video featuring Star Wars actor Forest Whitaker)

The Audacity of Solo

I’ve been thinking a lot about Han Solo lately. No, not the Han Solo movie, but the man we first meet in A New Hope. From his first appearance in the Mos Eisley Cantina, Han Solo is established as a cocksure, braggadocious, greedy, self-involved, loner whose only priority in life is himself. After all, from a purely symbolical angle, there is a reason his last name is “Solo” and it is hardly coincidental that a bounty hunter named “Greedo” confronts the Captain. Time and again throughout A New Hope, these qualities are reinforced, Solo’s words and actions proving that his instinct for self-preservation can only be superseded by the desire for a little extra money. As we know, the only reason Solo agrees to help free Princess Leia from the clutches of the Empire is because she is rich. 

I could, of course, go on and list every moment Captain Solo acts self-involved and greedy in A New Hope but I really don’t need to. You’ve all watched the film enough to know that, at his core, Han Solo embodies all of these qualities. But what makes these qualities stand out even more is the backdrop of A New Hope, the overarching story about a small band of Rebels struggling to free the galaxy from tyranny and oppression. From the very start of the movie, we know what these Rebels are up against: a massive, technologically powerful Empire that will stop at nothing to maintain complete control over the galaxy. The juxtaposition between Rebellion and Empire is clear and obvious as A New Hope unfolds, and is made all the more poignant when we see the size of the Empire’s Death Star battle station and its planet destroying capability. 

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Solo, speaking with Luke Skywalker, loads his reward while the Rebels prepare for battle.
Photo Credit – Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope

When the narrative-arc of A New Hope finally leads the audience to the Rebel’s hidden base – which the Empire has been  searching for – setting up the battle that will determine the fate of the galaxy, Han Solo wants nothing to do with the Rebels or the mammoth task that awaits. But this is hardly a surprise, he had only ever been in it for the money. In fact, it is fitting that while the Rebels scramble around a hanger, preparing to fight for their survival and for the fate of the galaxy, Han Solo is standing in plain sight with the money he was promised. Approaching Solo, Luke Skywalker implores the smuggler to join the Rebel cause, to lend his skills as a pilot to the fight that is about to begin. Solo’s reply fits his character perfectly:”What good is a reward if you ain’t around to use it? Besides, attacking that battle station is not my idea of courage. It’s more like, suicide.” In a sense, this single line encapsulates the greed and self-preservation of Han Solo, his need to take care of himself. Implored by the hero of the story to join the Rebels, Han Solo flatly rebukes Skywalker, proof that he values himself and his money more than the lives of others, even those he would call friends. 

So, the climactic engagement begins, the Rebel allies fighting against all odds to destroy the Empire’s planet-busting battle station. As one would expect, the Rebels fail time and again to destroy the station, leading to the final “attack run” led by the young Skywalker. A wing-man killed, another abandoning the attack due to damage on his fighter, and his droid partner destroyed, Skywalker finds himself alone as he speeds down a Death Star trench to deliver his payload of torpedoes. Just as Skywalker is about to be destroyed by the villain, Darth Vader, a shot rings out that destroys one of Vader’s own wing-men, a shot fired by Han Solo who comes flying in from above. Solo’s sudden presence disorients Vader’s other wing-man, the pilot slamming into his leader and causing the Dark Lord of the Sith to careen off into space. The path cleared by Solo, the young Skywalker fires the heroic shot that, only moments later, causes the battle station to explode. 

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Han Solo comes to the rescue, guns a blazin’ as he excitedly announces his arrival.
Photo Credit – Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope

I have often thought about the fact that Solo – cocksure, braggadocious, greedy, selfish – arrives at just the right moment to help Skywalker defeat the Empire. Narratively it makes perfect sense, just the right amount of tension building until, out of nowhere, the suave smuggler – whom we thought had given up on the Rebels – swoops in to assist the film’s young hero. But what we don’t get in the story is the reason for Han Solo’s change of heart, his internal thoughts about why he puts himself at great risk – something so counter to his life philosophy – to help Luke and the Rebels. Then again, I think it better that Solo’s change of heart not be over-explained. In a way, it is far more powerful to imagine what Han might have been thinking, for each audience member to fill in the gaps for her/himself. 

But what we should not lose sight of in our personal speculating is the reality that in choosing to help Luke and the Rebels, Han Solo acted selflessly. Putting aside his penchant for self-preservation and ignoring the reward he was given, Solo had the audacity to give his life to a cause greater than himself. In doing so, Han Solo became a hero. 

And so, as I think about Han Solo, I cannot help but consider the lesson we can learn from his act of selflessness. After all, as a form of modern-day myth, it is not enough for Star Wars to just entertain us. Rather, as myth, it is necessary for Star Wars to show us how we must live as part of a community and world, as part of something greater than ourselves. And what Han Solo teaches us is exceedingly necessary, especially in our consumer-driven and selfie-obsessed culture. Just as Han has a change of heart – putting his riches and life aside for the sake of others – so too must we do the same in our daily lives when the opportunities arise. We can, each one of us, be a hero, going beyond ourselves to assist our local communities, our nations, and our world. It is not enough to just sit back and enjoy the spoils of life and only look out for ourselves. No, like Han we are called to use our individual skills and join the cause of destroying the “Death Stars” of our time: homelessness, poverty, hunger, oppression, racism, sexism, homophobia, Islamophobia, Antisemitism, warfare, genocide, nuclear proliferation, and more.